[Return to previous screen in chapter one: about Tribalism.]

Solidarity according to
Carol Hampton of the Caddo Nation and
Robert Allen Warrior of the Osage Nation

by Theodore Walker, Jr.

Notes and quotes from
"A Heritage Denied: American Indians Struggle for Racial Justice" (SOJOURNERS, January 1991)
by Carol Hampton of the Caddo Nation
and from
"The Sweetgrass Meaning of Solidarity: 500 Years of Resistance" (SOJOURNERS, January 1991)
by Robert Allen Warrior of the Osage Nation


In "The Sweetgrass Meaning of Solidarity: 500 Years of Resistance" (SOJOURNERS, January 1991), Robert Allen Warrior of the Osage Nation teaches us about the social ethical significance of burning sage and sweetgrass.

A stalk of sage lights easily and burns quickly (p. 22).

Sweetgrass lights with difficulty, burns slowly, and yields a long lingering smell (p. 22).

Sage is about hot indignation and social protest. It is about the flash of special events that burn quickly and brightly, attracting much attention, and are are quickly gone.

In regard to celebrating Columbus and the Age of Discovery, Warrior said, the smell of burning sage "makes me want to tell others to organize protests, anything to disrupt this self-congratulatory party" (pp. 22-23).
And so, in 1990, with the burning of sage, Warrior and 350 other Native Americans from various aboriginal/indigenous tribes and nations throughout the western hemisphere were inspired to organize public protests against celebrating 500 years of white discovery and conquest.
Warrior reports, "In our final statement, "The Declaration of Quito," we committed ourselves to international indigenous solidarity in confronting the quicentenary" (p. 23).

And then they burned sweetgrass. Warrrior says, "Then I smell the sweetgrass and sense that other strength"--the strength of patience, endurance, of consistent long-range planning and hard long work (p. 23).

"Sweetgrass patience tells me to balance my indignation with the kind of work that will give us all something to celebrate the next time one of these anniversaries comes along." (p. 23)

Warrior teaches us the "sweetgrass meaning of solidarity" was understood to include long term commitment to protecting and enlarging the religious, social and political autonomy of Native American tribes and nations, commitment to various land recovery efforts, protection of sacred sites, economic development, and struggle for "fundamental social change".

And so, with the burning of sweetgrass, Native Americans were inspired to plan and to organize and to work together in an "international indigenous solidarity" (p. 23) that would continue long beyond the indignant protests of October 1992.

Moreover, according to Warrior, the smell of sweetgrass invites reflection upon and work toward solidarity with non-Native Americans (p. 23). Accordingly, Warrior advises those who would enter into coalition with Native Americans about "what solidarity with American Indian people means in 1992 and beyond" (p. 23).

In the past, political parties and popular movements, including liberation theologies, have often been guilty of exploiting Native Americans for their symbolic value while ignoring their demand for political autonomy and land recovery (p. 24).
Thus, solidarity with Native American peoples requires overcoming the habit of employing Native Americans as merely "a symbolic presence--the "poster children" of 1992" (p. 23).

Those who would enter into coalition with Native American peoples are called to understand that:

"Our primary focus as Indian people must be on establishing our right to a land base and a cultural and political status distinct from non-natives. As Ed Burnstick said in Quito, "We [the Cree] see ourselves as a nation with our own culture, government, and we won't allow Canada to call us ethnic, a minority, or a class." " (p. 24)

Commitment to this "primary focus" -- protection of present landholdings, recovery of lost lands, recognition of the political and cultural autonomy of Native American tribes and nations -- is required of any who would rightly claim solidarity with Native American peoples in 1992 and beyond.

The sweetgrass meaning of solidarity includes a call for Native Americans to reflect upon and work toward achieving solidarity and coalition with non-Native Americans who take Native American demands for land and political autonomy seriously, and
it includes an invitation to non-Native Americans to take Native American demands seriously, and to enter into liberating coalition efforts with Native Americans.

Accordingly, Warrior's essay serves to advise non-Native Americans about the commitments which are essential for entering into coalition with Native Americans in 1992 and beyond, and it serves as an invitation for non-Native Americans to enter into such coalitions.


The smell of sweetgrass invites intertribal and international cooperation between Native American peoples throughout the western hemisphere, and
it invites Native American peoples to reflect upon and work toward achieving coalitions with non-Native American peoples who take Native American demands seriously.

Furthermore, Warrior reports that many Native Americans are especially concerned to include African-Americans.

"Many of us are also committed to finding ways to be inclusive of others--especially African Americans, whose middle-passage story of slavery and resistance began not long after ours" (p. 24).

Carol Hampton of the Caddo Nation expresses a similar concern for including African-Americans in her essay--"A Heritage Denied: American Indians Struggle for Racial Justice" (SOJOURNERS, January 1991).

Her essay displays both concern for protest (sage) and concern for long range cooperative efforts (sweetgrass) with African-Americans. The concern for protest appears when Hampton reports that:

"In September 1990, Latin American commissioners of the Program to Combat Racism of the World Council of Churches called together 125 indigenous and African-American people from throughout the Americas and the Caribbean to meet in Rio de Janeiro to discuss challenges presented by physical and cultural genocide in relation to the upcoming quincentennial of Columbus's arrival.
In a statement prepared during the conference, the participants declared:
These 500 years of oppression and exploitation must never be celebrated! ... We denounce European claims of "discovery" in our lands and seas. ..." (p. 13)

And concern for developing long term red-black coalition efforts is apparent when Hampton quotes the conference statement as saying, "Together, African-Americans and indigenous peoples must work to rescue our spirituality, religions, traditions, cultures, and practices" (p. 13).

Thus, Warrior and Hampton and other Native Americans report that among Native Americans throughout the Americas, there is a strong sense of solidarity with African-Americans, and that this sense of solidarity issues in a special concern to invite African-Americans to enter into coalition with them in 1992 and beyond.

This concern for solidarity and coalition with African-Americans was inspired by events of 1990 and reaffirmed in October 1992, but this concern was not first born so recently.
Concern for red-black solidarity and coalition has a long history among Native American peoples.

[See a history of red-black solidarity: Walker's reflection on BLACK INDIANS: A HIDDEN HERITAGE (New York: Atheneum/Macmillan, 1986) by William Loren Katz.]


[Return to chapter one: about Tribalism.]


most recent update: 5 August 1997

NOTICE OF COPYRIGHT: copyright 1997 Theodore Walker, Jr.

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